What's Important 9: Time is a flat circle

I can remember hearing from people who were older than me that time was the enemy.

That was true for me as a kid, true for all children, as all we want is to be older, and time seemed to move so slowly.

In my 20s, time moved as it should, not too fast, not too slow. It was perfect, so much so that I gave it little thought, something I regret now.

In my 30s I began to notice time fluctuate, sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow, seldom in my favor.

I'm a very nostalgic person, although I think that's lessened over the years, perhaps because I have been forced to live in the present, more so than I ever have before. I suppose this is what happens when you're forced to stop living for only yourself.

And time really has become the enemy.

I would imagine most parents think their child is growing up too fast, that they're not taking it all in as much as they should or could. But it's more than that. There are so many things that I need to do that the things I want to do tend to seem like pipe dreams. And that's fine, this is what being a parent is all about. But man, it seems like the hours squeeze in on me; dishes multiply, it takes longer to get shoes on, there's always another doctor's appointment.

But we're all adults here so we manage. Feeling like I have too much to do and not enough time is a product of the times we live in. The truly frustrating thing about time is how its drained the joy out of those precious moments I have to do the things I want to do.

Everything becomes a guilty pleasure when you feel guilty about everything.

My precious moments of free time have actually become less precious because they've become less pure. The enjoyment of free time, of sitting down to read a book or watch TV, has become infected.

But maybe I only have so much joy. I already get so much of it from my son, more than I ever could have imagined possible, that maybe some kind of price had to be paid. It's not even close, of course; it's not like losing the unadulterated joy of doing nothing remotely compares with the amount of joy I get from my son. But maybe it's not the size of the sacrifice that matters, just that it exists.

 

 

Endings

I'm not going to go into a diatribe about the difficulty of writing really good endings.  I will say that perhaps the first great ending of a story I ever really noticed was Ann Beattie's "The Burning House."  Go track it down, if you've never read it.

My current obsession with endings has manifested itself in two ways: a bizarre new fascination with things that have finished and a desire to use the few good endings I've ever written for new stories.

The most recent example of the former is all the time I've spent re-watching the recently ended Gossip Girl television show (I will spare you from going into further details on that).  But it started before that.  I've been going through this period of reading complete comic book story arcs, things as ridiculous as the Spider-man Clone Saga and Batman: Knightfall.  I really the enjoy the idea of being able to read a complete work and form an opinion based upon the whole.  I also like to think about the important moments where the story went wrong, or the moments where it went very right, and what it all meant by the end.

To my mind, I've probably written less than half a dozen good endings.  I think the vast majority of them are okay.  I think the entire final chapter of "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At" is some of the best writing I've ever produced.  I like the end of "Unrequited," but it's been so long since I read it, I'm not sure if the writing still holds up.  The ending of "Gateway Drug" is probably too cute for its own good and the ending of "Weight," in hindsight, is ordinary.

I currently have two endings that I think are right up there with the best work I've ever done.  I actually got complimented on one of them, when it was attached to a short story that really wasn't good enough to have such a solid ending.  I've mostly left it alone over the years, instead trying to salvage the other one, which is attached to a short story that at least has the potential to be worthy of its ending.

I've come to realize that the latter one might actually work on its own as a short short.  I've never really written a short short before, so I find this pretty exciting, and isn't that what we want from our writing?  It also alleviates the pressure of having to improve the story that comes before it so that it's even remotely close to the quality of the ending.

The former one is the less problematic of the two, if only because it's a fairly universal ending.  It's a romantic ending, about a man realizing that the woman he's been sleeping with is actually more than that.  Basically, it lent itself to a story about girls and denial and that kind of thing, which is right in my wheelhouse.

Here's the weird thing: I attached the ending to a new short story that takes place during the same time in which I wrote the aforementioned ending.  Okay, I know that sounds like post-modernism run amok, but, trust me, it makes sense.  But I wrote this story now, and it's basically a story of "me" being with some girl who isn't my wife (although she's not technically anyone at all, since it's a complete work of fiction).  That's a little weird.  I don't think I've ever given her anything to read before that involved a love interest that wasn't, on some level, her.

It's also bizarre because I'm going back to a certain time of my life and writing about it from the future, when the ending I'm building this story around was written at that time.  The question now is whether my obvious hindsight will be obvious to the reader.

Great endings are hard to come by, so I have to take advantage of them when they come along.

What's Important 8: Miles Iz Ded

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

I'm a good writer.

I say that in part because I know that the vast majority of the people on this earth have a hard time stringing together enough words to make a complete sentence, let alone multiple sentences to make a paragraph.  Being able to write adequately is a lost art.

I also say that in part because these days anyone obsessed with the sexual proclivities of the Star Trek: the Next Generation crew can publish some slash fiction and call themselves a writer.  And while I have no problem at all with living out your sexual fantasies on the written page, I feel pretty confident in saying that my work is better.

I've had enough unbiased (and plenty of biased) people tell me I can write.  Push comes to shove, I'm willing to claim that I'm a good writer.  But being good really isn't enough.

I can be a great writer.  I've seen it.

Deep down inside of me there is a great writer and he really, really doesn't want to come out.  I suppose he might actually be trapped, which is a whole other thing to consider, because in one metaphor he is hiding and in another he's a prisoner.  I think it's probably a bit of each.

Sitting down to write for me is hard because I am easily distracted, easily frustrated, and my confidence is mercurial.  None of those things are true once I have alcohol in my system.

Once I've had some whiskey, the world around me dulls.  I become more relaxed, more willing to follow wherever the writing takes me.  I am supremely confident.

The locks release, the doors open, and out comes the great writer.

The hardest part of this process (well, I'll get to the others in a minute) is that I'm dealing with a pretty small window.  He doesn't come out until I've had a certain amount to drink, but inspired tipsy guy soon leads to unmotivated drunk guy, and then all is lost.

I can't go on like this, obviously.

It's funny, because given the frequency with which I drink, it would be easy to suggest that I have a problem

.  But here's the strange thing: these days, I basically only drink when I write.  Yes, I still often need alcohol to be social, but I'm finding that more and more lately I have no problems interacting with other humans completely stone cold sober.  Granted, there are a lot of factors at play there (like how much interaction I've had recently and who the people are), but alcohol is no longer essential for me to be social.

It still is for my writing.

That's probably a little hyperbolic.  I'm writing this totally sober, although I'll admit that I have a glass of Buffalo Trace bourbon sitting on the desk.  I do all of my editing stone cold sober.  I wrote most of "Master of the House" without a drop to drink (that's probably hyperbole, too), at least the initial draft.  Some stories are easier than others.  But "Pray" is soaked in whiskey.  So is "Unrequited."

Here's the thing: great writers write every day, and great writers don't need anything other than themselves to be great writers.  They just sit down and do it.  That's the real lesson here: that great writer within me that needs alcohol to come out might be crazy talented, but he's not very diligent, and I need that just as much as I need him.

Besides, once Nicole and I have kids, I don't know how I'll be able to keep this up.

Writing sober: the next frontier.

Baby steps.

Miles Iz Ded by the Afghan Whigs

What's Important 7: Validation

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

About 13 years ago, I wrote a song that would eventually be called "Not So Much a System as a Theory," which was something that actually came out of my mouth one day.  Anyway, the crux of that song got played by a couple of different groups of people, and to this day I couldn't even really tell you how it's supposed to go, just how it could.

All that really mattered with "System/Theory" was the riff at the end and, I think, the vocals that went along with it (ideally sung by someone who can, you know, sing).

A good ten years after I wrote that ending, I realized that I'd stolen some lyrics from an obscure Jawbox song.  The bit in question was from a song called "The Big Shave" and went "I don't want to/be the one who/reassures you."

Anyway, this is actually a round about way of getting to the line in "System/Theory" that follows it (yet with the same melody, more or less): "I don't want to/be your/be your/validation."

As I have been struggling with my quest for, well, I guess you would say acceptance of life, or, perhaps more accurately, the ability to be happy with what I have, I keep tripping up on my writing.  There is no other aspect of my life in which I feel the need to prove to others that I'm successful.  It's nice if people find out that I'm a loving husband, a wonderful grandson, a great son, a pretty good brother, and a reasonable friend, but it doesn't keep me up at night.  While there is fault to be found with all of those things, I've made peace with them and accepted that it's all a part of who I am.

It doesn't matter to me if people know how responsible I am, or how personally I take almost everything I do.  At this point in my life, I don't even really care if anyone finds me attractive or not, just as long as Nicole does.

I am probably more confident about myself than I have been at any other point in my 37 years, save perhaps a single summer in 2004.

And I still crave recognition for my writing.

I'm going to do something I try not to do in this blog, but I don't think I have much of a choice, given what I'm writing about: I'm going to talk about my family.

Because here's the thing: I want a great writer to tell me I'm great.  I want to sell a ton of books.  I want to

be a full time writer.  I want to do these things to prove that my decision to write wasn't just some weird, flight of fancy.  I want to show that this thing that I do that was wholly my creation and my creation alone is valid.

It's not that my parents ever actively discouraged me from writing (although there were a few moments).  It's just not something they really understood.  Honestly, they still don't.  And that's fine.  I can't imagine that I'm going to understand everything that my theoretical child values.

But I'm a Midwestern kid from a middle class family and importance is placed on things that don't include writing.  Importance is placed on crossing the T's and dotting the I's.  You go to high school to go to college to get a job to meet someone to get married to start a family.  You might take a winding road to get there, but those are the main stops.

And there's nothing wrong with any of that.  For as hard as it's been for me to adjust to my new, suburban lifestyle, I've started to accept it, and realized that there's nothing wrong with it.  There's nothing wrong with a house in a cul-de-sac in a good school district.  There could be worse paths for me to be placed on.

But writing was never a road that was laid out for me.  Writing was a road I created because some stupid part of my brain said that I needed it.  Writing is my thing.  And for some reason, I want to prove that it's worthwhile.

The dichotomy at work there is interesting.  If I've learned anything since I was a little kid, it's that writing is a singular pleasure that can only be experienced by the writer.  It's not that other people can't enjoy what someone writes, but they will never get the thrill out of it that the writer does.  On that level, writing is something you can only ever do for yourself, because only you can fully appreciate it.  And yet I still want people to read my work, and I want them to enjoy it and eagerly anticipate more.

I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.  I think being aware of a theoretical audience has ultimately made me a better writer.  I could churn out pages and pages of junk and never bother to edit it if I was only thinking of myself.  After all, why re-write those pages if they're just for your own enjoyment?  If it's just for fun, it really makes no difference.  But if it's to express something, then someone else eventually has to read it, unless you're in desperate need to express something to yourself (which is another issue entirely).

I've started to get better about these things.  I still day dream about a book deal, about giving notice at my job because I can afford to write full time.  I've written entire interviews in my head with Poets and Writers.

I think the weight of the life my parents always wanted me to have has lessened; it no longer crushes the life I chose for myself.  There's a balance starting to form, one which hopefully allows me to be content with the process of writing.

Now I just need to figure out how to do that without alcohol.

 Not the song I ripped off, but Jawbox's cover of Tori Amos' "Cornflake Girl"

What's Important 6: "Writer"

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

It's 9:03 on a Tuesday night and I'm sitting in front of my computer, much like I do most of the nights of the week.  My wife is in the living room watching television and it was all I could do to force myself away from her and into my office.  My desk is covered with papers, vaguely organized by story.  There are pens of every color all over the place.

This is about as true a picture of my existence as you're going to get, but chances are good I would never tell you that I'm a writer.

Every once in a while, I'm social.  It's almost always with Nicole next to me, and usually it's with her family.  But there have been occasions where I've been social with strangers, although still with Nicole by my side.

Inevitably, the strangers will ask me what I do.  And, inevitably, I will pause before I answer.  If she's quick enough, Nicole will interject, and tell the stranger that I'm a writer.  They will ask me what I write and I will become even more socially awkward than normal.

This is what Dictionary.com has to tell me about writers:

writ·er

[

rahy

-ter

]

Show IPA

noun

1.

a

person

engaged

in

writing

books,

articles,

stories,

etc.,

especially

as

an

occupation

or

profession;

an

author

or

journalist.

2.

a

clerk,

scribe,

or

the

like.

3.

a

person

who

commits

his

or

her

thoughts,

ideas,

etc.,

to

writing

:

an

expert

letter

writer.

4.

(in

a

piece

of

writing)

the

author

(used

as

a

circumlocution

for

“I,”

“me,”

“my,”

etc.):

The

writer

wishes

to

state….

5.

a

person

who

writes

or

is

able

to

write

:

a

writer

in

script.

So I guess technically I'm a writer.

But I have a hard time making that claim.

I've written three books.  One of them has been published.  I've just started the process of getting the last one published.  The other one has been sitting in a drawer for a while.

I've had a few short stories published by fairly obscure literary journals.  I'm a finalist for the next issue of Best New Writing.  I've got an essay in Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, published by Titan Books.  I've even got some various pop culture reviews floating around the internet.

I still have a hard time calling myself a writer.

My problem, as always, is that I consider the title "writer" as something you have to earn, and you earn it by being a good enough writer that you can make a living at doing that and nothing else.

There's a certain level of snobbery in that.  The way that I look at it, anyone can

call

themselves a writer.  Any person who puts a few words on a few pages can say that they're a writer, and that diminishes it for me.  It belittles something that I think is incredibly powerful.

Writing is not something I take lightly and it bothers me that those who do take it lightly can call themselves writers.

The reality, however, is that the aforementioned people are few and far between, certainly fewer than those of us who take writing seriously.

This is my first problem.  I believe that the person who sits at their desk for hours a day writing Star Trek fan fiction for their Star Trek web site doesn't get the same things out of writing that I do, so it must not mean as much, and is therefore not really writing.

I'm wrong about that.  I will admit that right now.  It was pretentious and more than a little bit cruel of me to believe such a thing.  I don't think I even realized I believed that until I really thought about it.  Perhaps that's the price I pay for going to grad school.

Anyone who writes gets something from the writing that they need, and who am I to say that what they get and what they need are any less than what I get and what I need?

If I can get past my arrogance on what a writer is on that level, then why can't I consider myself a writer?

There's something holding me back.  There's something that won't let me call myself a writer even though I know that's what I am, even though it's something that has defined me for as long as I can remember.

It is, as always, a matter of self-confidence...

This entry, and it's sequel (coming next Monday), are a part of a series of blog posts that just seem to keep going and going.  You can find them here:

What's Important 1: Twitter Tortures Me

What's Important 2: The Social Tank

What's Important 3: Happiness

What's Important 4: The Zen of Art

What's Important 5: You Can Get With This

What's Important 5: You Can Get With This...

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

...or you can get with that.  I think you'll get with this, for this is where it's at.

Many, many moons ago, at some indistinct time and immaterial place, I heard or read the phrase "you have to choose to be happy."  And I chose to believe it was a load of shit.

To me, the idea of choosing to be happy was simply living in denial.  It was also about giving up.  I didn't want to do either of those things, although I was, at that time, doing both.

I still don't like the idea of "choosing to be happy."  It's simplistic and, well, wrong.  The more accurate way of putting it is "question your assumptions."

Over the course of a few decades, I've gotten a few ideas into my head, a good many of which aren't particularly right.  But, you know, over the course of those few decades, they stuck.  As with anyone, I've found that I believed things about my life that weren't necessarily true.

Here's a mild example: A few days ago, Nicole and I went away for our anniversary.  We went to a resort in Sonoma.  We got massages at the spa.  While I was getting the massage, I thought "I'm bad at relaxing."  And then I stopped myself.  Because "I'm bad at relaxing," while it may or may not be true, is self-fulfilling.  If I believe it to be the case, then I'm making sure that it is.

Now, I'm not saying that believing that I'm good at relaxing will make that so, but at least I'm not boxing

myself into a corner.

And it works for everything.  "I'm a bad person."  "I'm stupid."  "I'm fragile."  "I'm bad for the people around me."  You can go on and on (note: those are just random examples; I've never, ever thought I was stupid. If anything, I probably have the opposite problem).

My big thing, lately, has been trying to face the preconceived notions of what my life would/should be like.  Don't get me wrong, living in the suburbs is still freaking me out, but just because it might be different than the life that I thought I'd be living, doesn't mean it has to be bad.  And, hell, if I'm being totally honest, I really didn't have much of an idea of what my life would be like at this point, anyway.

The problem is that this philosophy forces me to second guess my initial reactions to pretty much everything. I've spent most of my life second guessing every decision I've ever made (or could make), but it's not those decisions that are problematic, it's how I react to things.  Forcing yourself to take a beat before reacting to something is very, very hard and, really, at odds to how pretty much all of us are raised.

I know I sound like a New Age hippie; I accept that.  I suppose living in Northern California will do that to you.

What's Important 4: The Zen of Art

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

I envy LARPers.

For those that don't know, LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing.  In almost all incidents that I know of, the role playing involves Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy worlds.

Here, watch the trailer for Darkon to get a better idea:

There are a lot of people out there who probably mock the hell out of these people.  After all, they're waging fake war on each other over fakes lands using fake weapons.  But I think the people who make fun of them are missing the point.

For LARPers, this is enough.  The fantasy is real enough for them that it fills a void.  They embrace the experience for all its worth and it makes them happy.

I posted something a while back about writing and how it torments me and it's really hard and really fulfilling and how I'm constantly seeking something greater for my writing.  I found that the responses I got to the blog post fell within two camps: 1) I know your pain and 2) what the hell are you talking about, writing is sweet.

The latter group of people are very similar to LARPers; the process itself is enough.  They can fully submerge themselves and enjoy the creative release for what it is.  I think that is absolute genius.

The question, then, is what's the deal with the former group.  Why do I need to be published?  Why do I desire to write for a living?  Why is writing such a struggle?  Why does it make me nearly as miserable as it does happy?

I have just listed four questions that I have no real answer for.

I mean, obviously, my desire to write for a living stems from the fact that, as painful as it can be, writing is still the work that brings me the most joy.  It's also, I think, the thing that forces me to use the talents I have, which is not something I get in my every day world.

As pretentious as this may sound, I suppose there's a certain element of the tortured artist at work.  There's a more-substantial-than-I-want-to-admit part of me that desperately wants validation for what I'm doing which, in turn, is validation of me.  Sadly, these days that validation comes in the form of book sales or, at the very least, a book deal.  It comes when someone says you're good enough that you can make this your career.

That's what it comes down to, it seems: validation.  Those people in Darkon don't need it, at least not from the rest of us.  They probably know they'd never get it, anyway, but they don't really care.  What they have is enough.

That's what's eluded me all this time, that feeling that what I have is enough.  But I think I'm starting to get there.

And, as you may have noticed, this "What's Important" series seems to be part of this process.

What's Important 3: (Happiness)

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

“I was happy but happy is an adult word.  You don’t have to ask a child about happy, you see it.  They are or they are not.  Adults talk about being happy because largely they are not.  Talking about it is much the same as trying to catch the wind.”

-Henri
The Passion
By Jeanette Winterson

In the last installment of this apparently opened ended series of blog posts on "what's important," I talked about how difficult it is for introverts to be social on a whim.  I mentioned that it was particularly hard for me to be social on demand after being social for 40 hours a week at work.  Clearly, I surmised, my only solution was to stop working.

But that's not so much possible.

I've noticed something about my generation: we have no idea how to be happy.  Or, more to the point, we have never thought to make happiness a priority.

I think we might be the last generation to do this.  I think the generation that followed us were raised in an environment that emphasized emotional health as much as material gain, or even personal responsibility.  Really, being happy was fulfilling the obligation of personal responsibility.

It makes sense, if you think about it.  My dad once pointed out to some friends of his (in front of me) that their children were the first generation that really couldn't be more successful than their parents.  It's true, particularly if you come from a middle class background.  Look at how large the middle class was when we were born.  Look at how big it is now.  An awful lot of us are living below the standard we were raised on.

But that's what we learned.  We learned from our parents, who were exceeding the expectations of their

Happy

parents, that our goal should be to do the same.  We were raised to not only be tangibly successful, but to be responsible citizens, and those two things mattered above all else.  You were to get a job, have a family, and live up to the commitments that you make.  You had to represent your upbringing.

There's nothing wrong with any of that.  Perhaps the personal responsibility aspect was played up a bit more for me because I was raised in the Midwest.  Maybe there are people who were raised in other parts of the country whose focus was more on the material gains.  But in the end, you had to behave in a certain way and achieve a certain life for that life to be considered a success.

At no point in time did happiness ever really come into it.

Which, again, makes sense.  The definition of happiness has changed a great deal over the last hundred years or so.  The fact that each generation was able to improve upon the previous one on so many different levels (rights, education, money, etc.) was more than enough.  I would think that, on a very basic level, the feeling of moving the line forward was enough to make anyone happy.

But that doesn't exist anymore.  The best my generation could hope for is to live at the same level as our parents, and I think that's left a lot of us wanting more -- but having no idea what that "more" is.

I have a lot of friends with kids and if I've learned anything from them it's that the number one thing they want for their kids is happiness.  Oh, I'm sure there's an ideal situation in their heads as to the fate of their offspring, but when push comes to shove, all that matters to them is that they're happy.  There are no asterisks to that, which is something I don't think you could have said about the generation that brought us into this world.

If this is true, I should be ecstatic.

It's a difficult thing to wrap your brain around, the idea that perhaps you have no idea what happiness means or, if you do know what makes you happy, no idea how to go about getting it.  Even if you're lucky enough to know what makes you happy and to know how to get it, there's a part of you that fights it, because happiness isn't a priority for you, or at least it shouldn't be.

Happiness is a byproduct, not a goal.

So when you decide that maybe, just maybe, you need to make happiness a goal, what do you do?  How do you figure out what things you're doing because you were told you were supposed to and what things legitimately make you happy?

Doing things to make myself happy generally makes me feel guilty.  As my mother would say when I refused to finish my dinner, there are people starving in China.  There are people starving right here, and yet I'm worried about my happiness.  I should be happy with what I have.

Which is a valid point: I

should

be happy with what I have.  Which then begs the question: am I not happy with what I have because it doesn't make me happy, or because I won't let it?

And that, I think, is the crux of the situation.

"Happy" by Ned's Atomic Dustbin, who

make me happy.

What's Important 2: The Social Tank

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

I'm a bit of a misanthrope.

I say "a bit" because the definition of a misanthrope is someone who hates and/or distrusts humankind, and I don't think that's entirely true in my case.  "Hate" is probably too strong of a word.  "Distrust?"  There's something to that.

The bottom line is that, if I have my way (which I rarely do), I would prefer to spend more time alone than not.

This can make life difficult when you're married to someone who enjoys having at least a little bit of a social life.

Over the last few days, I received confirmation of a theory I've held for a long, long time, something that I think applies to most introverts.

See, people sometimes paint introverts as unable to be social.  But that's not the case.  Introverts can be as social as anyone else, they just have a limit.  I only have so much socializing in my tank.  And if I use it all up, it's going to take time for me to refill.

Not that I really know how it works for extroverts, but I think it's the opposite for them.

Funny enough, it's entirely possible for an introvert to fool people into thinking they're anything but.  It's all a matter of timing and planning.

I have spent the last five days on a mini-vacation.  I only actually took three days off from work, but they

Borrowed from http://www.evercurious.com

surrounded a weekend, which gave me five straight days without a single work related activity.  I even set an out of the office message on my work e-mail, something I don't think I've ever done in my entire life.

My vacation is ostensibly over.  It's after six in the evening of my last day off, which means I'd be home from work by now, anyway.  I'm already panicking that I didn't accomplish enough over those five days.  I felt an incredible crush of failure and, for more than a few minutes, had a "what's it all about" moment.

That's a little bit of a digression right there is what that is.

Anyway, having the last five days off has underscored something I've always known, but never really embraced: working drains my social tank.

Here's the thing: I have to socialize at work.  Heck, I like it, as long as it's on my terms.  It makes the day go by much faster.  But I'm in an environment where even if I have nothing but dreary reports to do (and that is quite often my fate), I'm still surrounded by others.  By attention span being what it is, I engage with those others and it is, more often than not, perfectly fine.

But 40-ish hours of that a week is my max.  It's often more than that.  When the weekend comes or, heck, even weeknights, my tolerance to socialize with anyone other than my wife is about as close to zero as

possible.

Borrowed from

http://wynbrand.wordpress.com

Honestly, I like people, more or less.  And when I have the ability to be social, I like being social.  But when I don't, it freaks me out.  It's is almost unbearable.

Clearly, the solution, then, is to never go to work every again.

But that's not really an option for me.

There has to be a happy medium between working every day and being a misanthrope and being a destitute socialite, yes?

I'm working on it.  We'll see how it goes.

What's Important 1: Twitter Tortures Me

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

The main appeal of Twitter, for me, is to get a glimpse into the life I wish I was leading.

The vast majority of the people I follow on Twitter are storytellers of some type, be they writers or artists, and I would say that the vast majority of them do so for a living, or at least manage to get by doing little else.  And those people often Tweet about what they're doing at any given moment, and it doesn't usually involve sitting in a cubicle, putting together Excel sheets of information they have no real interest in.

Over the course of any given day (and night), most of these creators will drop comments about what they're currently working, what their process is like, if they're going to make their deadline, when the next meeting is, etc.  It's like getting a glimpse into heaven.

Of course it's not real, I know.  The beauty of social media is that we can present only the aspects of ourselves we choose to allow the world to see, and with Twitter that's particularly myopic.  It's a 140 character window.

Most of the time I use these glimpses as motivation.  That's the life I want, I'd say.  That should be me, Tweeting about it's 9 AM and I'm sitting down to answer publishing related e-mails while drinking my coffee.  I should be editing and proofing and researching throughout the day and cranking out new pages through the night.  I should be part of a mutual admiration society with writers whose work I enjoy.

Lately, it's been equals part motivating and depressing.  My life seems to be settling into a mold and that mold seems inflexible.

Before I go any further, you should go read this brilliant piece by David Ferguson over on the Onion.  It was published on Wednesday, about a week after I'd started putting this blog post together, and it nails exactly where my mind is at these days.

Back?

One of the things you kind of learn as you get older is that there are fewer and fewer of us out there.  By "us," I'm referring to the people in Ferguson's piece, people who have figured out what it is they love to do and who are only able to do the aforementioned thing at night and on the weekends.  That's a hard row to hoe, and over time enough distractions pop up to make giving up that life not just easy, but preferable.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, either.  But it does suggest a certain extremism in place when it comes to "doing what you love."  At a certain point, it becomes all or nothing.  It's a simple matter of time.  There are only so many hours in the day, and, whether we like it or not, we only have so much energy.  What we have to do will almost always trump what we want to do because what we have to do keeps us alive.

That's where I'm at these days.  I'm getting older and my life is getting fuller, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  But it's making me anxious about doing the thing that I love.

Eleven years ago, I quit being in bands.  Even back then, I realized that I didn't have time to play guitar in a rock n' roll band and give my writing the attention it deserved -- at least not while working a full time job.  I referred to as crossing a river, and I could only take so many things will me to the other side, and the Marshall half stack just wasn't going to fit on my boat.

I doubt I'll ever stop writing, I just worry about the day when I get two hours once a week to do it, or when I have to choose between spending time with my wife and sitting at my computer.

As unrealistic as it is, I want that Twitter life, and until I have it, it will always torture me.

Trying to be Superman

My son refers to all superheroes as Superman.

I'm not sure how he knows which characters are superheroes. The Spider-man action figure is Superman. The Batman book features Superman. But Woody from Toy Story is Woody. None of his Duplo figures are Superman. Only the two superheroes get named for the ultimate superhero.

How does he know? Spider-man doesn't wear a cape. Maybe it's the fact that they all have symbols on their chests.

I've been reading comic books for over thirty years and there's a lot to be said about the depictions of masculinity in superhero comics, most of it not good. But growing up this was my example, at least on a subconscious level. I've noticed recently that there's an evolution at work within superhero comics, epitomized by what are perhaps the three most iconic characters, who all happen to be male (and white and straight, for that matter): Spider-man, Batman, and Superman.

I realize that those three are not the traditional "trinity" of superhero comics, largely thought of to be the DC trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. And those three aren't the current Marvel movie trinity of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. But I think the average person on the street with only a passing familiarity of comics would point to Spider-man, Batman, and Superman as the top of the hill with regards to superheroes.

Let's consider 3 aspects of Spider-man, Batman, and Superman: family, violence, and sex.

The classic version of Spider-man (the one who will be gracing movie screens yet again next year) lives with his aunt. She's a prominent figure in his life. He is still very much in need of parenting. Even today in the comics, he is the only one of these three characters who still has a mother figure in his life. Being someone's child is still very much who Peter Parker is.

He might be older now, but the iconic Spider-man is a high school kid, so much so that Marvel regularly goes back to that well whenever they can, be it Untold Tales of Spider-man, Ultimate Spider-man, or Spidey.  And any time Peter Parker might start moving too far forward with his life like, say, getting married, Marvel has done whatever it takes to pull him as far back as they can. My favorite Spider-man stories are actually the ones that take place after he's graduated from high school, but I understand the appeal. High school Spider-man is a way of life. But he's not a paragon of maturity.

Batman, however, is clearly an adult. While Alfred may seem like a father figure, Bruce Wayne has taken it upon himself to be a father for a handful of characters who more often then not work with him as Robin. Part of what makes Batman more than just a two dimensional vigilante is the fact that he's trying to build a family to replace the one he lost.

He is, it should be noted, a horrible father, though. It would be easy to make the case that he's an abusive parent and should never be entrusted with minors.

Bruce Wayne is also over the death of his parents, no matter how many times it's revisited in the comics. He's not doing what he does to avenge them, not anymore. He has a mission and he's devoted his life to it. Was the death of his parents the motivation for that choice? Of course, but it's moved well past that.

Superman never really had to move past the death of his parents because he was a baby when Krypton was destroyed; he has no memory of them. As to whether Ma and Pa Kent are alive, I'm not entirely sure, as their status in the comics seems to change on a regular basis. The most common scenario seems to be Pa no longer with us, but Ma still alive. Regardless, by the time either or both of his parents die, he's already been fighting for truth, justice, and the American way for some time; their deaths are not his motivator.

Because here's the thing: Superman is selfless. Sure, perhaps you can make that claim about Spider-man and Batman, but those two characters regularly struggle with their own needs versus the needs of others. Most of Spider-man's early stories deal him making the wrong choice in this regard, in part because every time he makes the right choice horrible things happen. And it would be easy to argue that Batman is the most selfish superhero in all of comics, in part because of his martyr complex.

Superman doesn't really struggle with such things. Superman knows who he is and he's comfortable in his own skin. He really is what we all aspire to.

The violence these characters take part in (these are superhero comics we're talking about) reflect the characters perfectly: Spider-man makes jokes while he fights, Batman is painfully serious, and Superman, well, Superman usually tries to resolve conflict without violence if he can. There have been a number of writers over the years who have actually tried to write Superman as a pacifist, but even when he's not taken to that extreme, violence is his last resort. To an extent, it has to be; he's so powerful that his actions can have unforeseen consequences. But this is also a reflection of who he is, just as Spider-man's jokes reflect his insecurity and Batman's grim determination represent his lack of balance.

Their love interests are equally as telling. Regardless of what comic book lore would tell us, Spider-man has really only had two love interests: Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane. He met both of them while still in high school. Gwen was a two dimensional personification of the girl next door, while Mary Jane was the actual girl next door, who would be come the ultimate adolescent fantasy: a model.

Vicki Vale notwithstanding, Batman's most notable romantic partners are either villains or those who walk the fine line between villainy and heroics. Batman has a bad girl fetish and it plays perfectly into the next step of maturity from Spider-man. These are women who need a strong man to get them to behave, emphasis on the man. But these aren't real relationships.

Let's just get this out of the way, then: Lois Lane is a singular character, unlike any other in all of comics.

Superman isn't Superman without Lois Lane, so much so that creators in other mediums don't even pretend it's possible to separate the two. There was a TV show called Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman that, as is clear from the title, was about the two of them, not just the guy with the S on his chest. Heck, technically she got top billing.

You can separate Batman and Catwoman or Spider-man and Mary Jane, but you can't separate Superman and Lois Lane.

And she's done this by being one of the few female characters in superhero comics known for her brains, her wit, and her ability. I honestly can't remember any lengthy period of time in which Lois Lane was nothing more than a pin-up; the same cannot be said for the vast majority of other love interests.

And perhaps that's why -- Lois Lane has never simply been the love interest. That's not to say that she was written particularly well in the early years, but her obsession with Superman ultimately translated to tenacity as a reporter that expanded beyond the Man of Steel. Once she found out who Clark Kent really was, nothing changed. She was still the same driven Lois Lane.

The fact that Lois Lane is who Superman falls in love with speaks volumes. And, of course, he marries her, and in current comics continuity, they have a son.

Lois Lane isn't marrying Batman. She's not dating Spider-man. She's spending her life with someone who deserves her.

This is where I am, then: I was Spider-man, then I became Batman, now I'm desperately trying to be Superman.

That's not to say I was actually any of those characters. But my growth as a straight white guy can be traced from character to character. I still think Batman is the best superhero character in comics, if only because of how he changes to reflect society from decade to decade. But Superman is the be all and end all. He's who we should all want to grow up to be.

We reminisce about being Spider-man. We fantasize about being Batman. We try to be Superman.

A few months ago, DC Comics (home of Batman and Superman) had a soft relaunch of their comics. One of the biggest changes was replacing a young, single version of Superman with the aforementioned married with child version. Not much was changed about Batman.

The current crop of Batman books do nothing for me.

But Superman is probably my favorite superhero comic currently being published.

 

 

 

 

It's not easy being green.

I know a lot of writers.

This is surprising given that I don't put myself out there in any way. I have a hard enough time calling myself a "writer" let alone talking to others about what I do. But I went to grad school and in the years following have somehow managed to find myself interacting with other people who write.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I know a few people who have been successful at writing.

I know a few writers who have had multiple novels published. I know a writer who was nominated for The Pushcart Prize. I know a writer who contributed to an addition of Best American. I know writers whose work has been featured in every great literary journal, magazine, and web site you can possible think of.

I'm always happy for these people when they share their most recent publishing triumphs. Any such news also makes me jealous.

This is all a precursor to the fact that someone I used to work with just got an agent for her YA book.

I didn't work with Leanne for very long and I still don't know her very well, but soon after we met we talked about writing. I've never read anything she's written and I don't know that she's ever read anything of mine, aside from perhaps some rants on Facebook. I do know that she's super nerdy, so she certainly has the street cred for her book. I also know that she's very dedicated to her writing.

That last point is a big one, because in some ways it's what I'm really jealous of. Yes, of course, I wish I had an agent for my YA book (or any of my books). But Leanne worked to accomplish that, I have no doubts.

I've been re-watching Scrubs lately, so it's not surprising that I thought of this exchange between Dr. Cox and Carla:

Dr. Cox: For the record, you know you would ace that nurse practitioners program.

Carla: Really? You think so? Well, what if the classes are too hard? What if the teachers are mean? What if the other kids don't like me?

Dr. Cox: Okay.

Carla: Of course I would ace that program! But I barely get to see my boyfriend as it is. And if I went to class five nights a week? Well.... I guess I'm taking my chances on Turk right now.

Swap my son's name for "Turk" and there you go.

I don't write as much as I did before my son was born. I don't even write as much as I did when he was still a baby. I just went a month without writing anything at all!

And this is just writing. Being a writer also means spending an ridiculous amount of your free time researching literary journals, agents, publishers, etc. and sending your work to all of them. The process has gotten much easier as more people move to digital submissions, but it's still time consuming.

Then there's the editing...

The tug of war between what I want/need versus what what my child wants/needs isn't something I've dealt with much, mostly because I am an extreme individual; when it comes to my son, I give him everything. I don't even question it. There is no balance for me, even though I know that's an untenable way to live. His existence has impacted me on a molecular level in a way that writer never has, in a way that nothing ever has. I have clarity with my son. I am his dadda and that is all the matters.

Every parent in the world is reading that and thinking they remember when it was like that for them, too. But the reality of the situation is that taking care of your child isn't just a matter of doing things for them, it's a matter of setting an example. My son needs to see my at my best (he'll most assuredly see me at my worst), and I'm at my best when I write.

But time is a problem for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with my specific flaws than any attempts by the universe to conspire against me. Ultimately, I am the only one responsible for the fact that I haven't been writing.

Still.

Extenuating circumstances.

And so I am jealous. I'm jealous of those who have the focus to write on a regular basis. I'm jealous of those who are taking advantage of those years when they have fewer responsibilities and I'm jealous of those who have plenty of responsibilities, yet still manage to get the writing done. I'm jealous of their success, but I'm more jealous of their work.

We'll see how jealousy works as a motivator.

The Gilmore Girls Really Are That Awful

The Gilmore Girls was always a mixed bag of a show. More often than not, though, the problems with the writing were overshadowed by the quirky, quaint, picturesque Star's Hollow, the kind of town every dreamy eyed twentysomething longs for, the kind of place that could never actually exist in our reality, which made it all the more enchanting.

Perhaps the show would have been better served if it had ended sooner than it did. After a few seasons, you could begin to see the stress on the writers. Gone were the naturally evolving stories, replaced now by questionable decisions from the characters -- not questionable as decisions so much as questionable that such (to the show's credit) well defined characters would actually make such choices. But the show had no choice. It needed drama, and redundant romantic entanglements and love triangles could only go so far.

The limitations were always there, we were just blinded by the charm.

Going into the Gilmore Girls revival, then, I had to wonder if they could bring back that charm, and perhaps do so without the pesky forced plot lines tagging along.

The answer is no...and no. So I guess that's a win?

Beware, there be spoilers ahead!

I could go on and on about how fairly poor the Winter episode was, or how pretty good the Spring episode was, or how awful the Summer episode was, or how they did, in fact, save the best for last in the Fall episode, but you can find lengthy discussions on all of that in multiple places across the internet.

No, to really summarize the new GG series, not to mention encapsulate the last one, we only need to look at the very last scene and one bit of dialogue.

Rory's boyfriend, Paul, breaks up with her via text message. Rory, understandably (BEYOND understandably) says she feels bad that she stayed with him all this time (more on that in a minute).

"I suck," she says.

"No, you don't," says Lorelei. "It didn't fit. It needs to fit."

Taken out of context, this can almost be written off as another of Lorelei's attempts at being deep. Unfortunately for both mother and daughter, context matters.

And that context involves Rory being horrible to her boyfriend, Paul, for the last year, with every indication that she'd been horrible to him for a good two years before that.

We meet Paul in the first episode, Winter, and he's meant to be a joke. No one can remember his name even though they'd met him numerous times, some even had lengthy conversations with him. He has the same first name as her dog, yet Lorelei calls him by every other P name she can think of. Even Luke has this problem and he's the least awful person on the show (well, aside from Sookie). Rory regularly invites him places and then forgets about him, at one point leaving the house without him, at another point nearly leave the town without him.

Rory acknowledges that she needs to break up with him, yet claims to never find the time to do so, which is an unbelievable explanation, particularly given that they have been together for TWO YEARS when the series starts.

It is very clear, in both actions and words, that Rory could care less about the guy. She is, as the kids say, ghosting him, and she's very aware of it. She's fine with hurting Paul because all she thinks of is herself.

And if ghosting Paul were the extent of Rory's offenses, then that final scene might not strike such a note. But Rory has also been cheating on Paul. She does so throughout the series and for some unknown amount of time before the series. She cheats on him without a thought, without a care, and when Lorelei finds out she hardly blinks. Nary a concerned word.

As if to pour salt in the wound, Rory even has her first one night stand while she is still, ostensibly, in a relationship with Paul. She has her regular affair and then throws a one night stand in for good measure, just in case we though maybe the affair was just a case of extreme emotional confusion.

No, Rory is very aware of what she's doing; she just doesn't care.

And so here we are, in a moment of what has to be disingenuous self-criticism regarding her relationship with Paul, a person she spent three years walking on, and how does Lorelei respond?

"It didn't fit."

Rory is a product of her upbringing and Lorelei is just as self-absorbed. The Pauls of the world don't matter. They are a stepping stone to a greater truth...or something.

Any other person, let alone parent, would perhaps question Rory's choice involving Paul, at the very least introducing the idea that perhaps she was unkind (a nice way of saying she was awful). They might also mention the fiancee of Rory's regular affair. But not Lorelei, not one half of the famous Gilmore Girls. They are the star of their own show even when there isn't one, and all others are kindling for that fire.

If perhaps we can look past Lorelei's role in creating Rory, her "advice" is just as problematic on its own.

Relationships don't boil down to whether they "fit" or not. Yes, there has to be a certain degree of compatibility for a relationship to work. But relationships require effort. They're not shoes. You don't just try them on and return them if there's not enough room in the toe. You decide whether or not the relationship is worth the time and effort and if the answer is "yes," you get down to it. Fitting is nice, but fitting is a very small piece of that puzzle.

But understanding any of that requires both selflessness and introspection, two things which Lorelei sorely lacks.

Could Paul have been the one if Rory had actually been serious about that relationship? I doubt it. But if it never had a chance than the fact that she strung him along for so long is all the worse.

It's sad. Repeated viewings of the original show had brought me to this conclusion about Lorelei, but I held out hope for Rory. Surely the bookish young girl who first noticed the bag boy at Doose's Market would grow up thinking of others or at least giving them the odd thought now and again.

But that delightful mother/daughter relationship that was the crux of the show wouldn't allow that to happen. Instead of allowing Rory to grow beyond her, Lorelei manages to hold her down.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that the Gilmore girl who shines through is Emily, the original villain of the show. Her development over the course of this second series happens organically and her scenes are regularly the best of the four episodes.

It's easy to see why: Emily's story is a natural one. The drama is easy. Her husband of 50 years has died. It's a story that is plausible, just as response to his death rings true. There is no manufactured drama here, setting it in stark contrast to the lives of her daughter and granddaughter.

Because of that, I'm hoping that the next series -- which we will no doubt get -- features a little less awfulness and a few more whale hunting stories.

My Awkward Assocation with Punk Rock Part 3

I ostensibly moved to Atlanta because the drummer in my last band had moved there a year early.  He, however, had a job at CNN lined up, whereas I had nothing at all.

Not long after I moved, one of the bands from my hometown came to Atlanta to play a show.  I went to said show and got to see a few people I went to high school with that I'd now known for nearly a decade.  The band, Party of Helicopters, was pretty well known in the "scene," if you will, so their show was a big deal.  It was at this show that I met the king of the scene.

I don't know if such creatures exist anymore, now that we have the internet.  I mean, we had it then, too, but most people I knew were still on dial-up, so it wasn't exactly the go to way of staying in touch or getting music.  I honestly don't remember what the king of the scene in Atlanta's name was.  For some reason, I want to say Matt.

Anyway, we met at that one show and he was nice enough and since I was new in town, it was cool to have someone to talk to that was into the same things as me (or, in this case, one thing that I was into).

Not long after that, another band from my hometown came to Atlanta to play.  This was a little bit different because I was no only friends with these guys from high school, they were also some of my best friends.  They came to my place before the show, we all hung out after the show, they stayed at my place while they were in town.

There van ended up breaking down when they tried to leave, so they stayed a few days longer while it was getting fixed.  The king of the scene even managed to set them up with another show.  I think the Party of Helicopters was there again for that show, so afterwards it was this fairly big group of "indie" people hanging out.  At this point, the king of the scene seemed to assume that, since I knew all these bands from my hometown and I liked a lot of the same music, I was going to be a part of the "scene."

I distinctly remember having a conversation with the king about some upcoming event.  Honestly, I remember it as being a phone conversation about an event that was either that night or the next.  I told him I was going to miss said event and I don't believe I had a reason for missing aside from the fact that I just really didn't care.

He told me that it was the type of thing that I "had" to go to.  I remember him saying that much.  I don't remember how direct he was, but at the very least the implication was that if I wanted to be a member of the "scene," then I had to go to "scene" based events.

Needless to say, that was my last experience in the "scene."

There's something to be said for the timing of that.  It happened the summer of 2000, and I was spending

more and more time online.  It was the heyday of Napster.  I didn't need to go to shows to discover music.  Hell, I didn't need to know anyone to discover music.

Two years later, I moved to Los Angeles.  The first few years were difficult for me with regards to music.  I met a lot of people and made some great friends, but none of them listened to the same things that I did.  I began going to shows by myself, which ultimately wasn't nearly as pathetic as I thought it would be.

During those years, my tastes began to change, aligning with where I'm at now.  I still listen to the recorded in a basement, angst and anger punk rock, but it's not my go to music.  It's music of a mood.  It's no longer my every day music.

These days, my music has softened.  I'm indie rock.  That's probably the best way to put it, as much as that might pain me.  I listen to earnest rock music by bands that don't have mainstream success.  The songs are more accessible, but still challenging, probably more so, even.  I listen to more singing than yelling, although I still enjoy some quality yelling.

Slowly but surely, I met people who were into at least some of the same bands I listened to.  Nicole quickly came on board with a lot of my music.  We started going to shows.  We started going to shows with friends.  The Troubadour was the greatest place on earth.

Even this started to tapper off after a while.  I got old.  A show that went until 1 AM on a week day was exhausting.  My feet hurt from standing.  I wasn't the angry young man I was two decades ago.  And I'm fine with that.

These days, I listen to Pandora and Soma FM to hear new music.  My friends on Facebook talk about their favorite new bands.  I share with Nicole the bands I think she'll like and keep the others to myself.  Every once in a while, if it's a band we both really like a lot, we'll make the drive into the city to see them.  We'll stay up late.

I'm not punk rock.  I don't know that I ever was.  But I had fun dabbling.  I had fun dabbling and it got me to where I am now.

It was worth it.

My Awkward Association with Punk Rock Part 2

I mostly ordered records from Subpop and Dischord, since I knew I liked the Afghan Whigs and I knew I liked Jawbox (although I'd first heard both bands on major labels).  Seven inch records cost between two and three dollars, which wasn't much of an investment to try out a band I'd never heard of.  I stuck some money in an envelope, stuck the envelope in the mail, and a few weeks later I had some vinyl goodness.

Once I discovered that Jawbox had their own label, DeSoto Records, I got a little crazy.  I don't think DeSoto released a 7 inch that I don't own.  Seriously, I'm looking at their web site right now and I'm pretty sure I own all of those.

From 7 inch records I went to compilations.  I was in love with compilations.  It was a great way for me to discover new bands, particularly if some of the tracks were by bands I already knew.  There was the Simple Machines 7' series compilation, the first Jabberjaw compilation, Dischord's State of the Union comp, all those Kill Rock Stars compilations, and endless records put out by tiny labels in every town in America featuring bands their friends were in.

And then there were the 'zines.  Listen, I'm not much for "real" or "true" definitions of labels, like the whole fake geek business.  But if you were actually involved in underground music at all back in the day, you read 'zines.  I mean, you just did.  The internet wasn't the place it was today, so you had to get all your information about upcoming shows, upcoming records, etc. from 'zines.  And some of the bigger ones would even release compilations of their own.

This was all going down during my sophomore year of college, my first year at Ohio University (after leaving

a very small, very conservative school in the middle of the state).  I'd been playing guitar for over a year by this point, so I was actively trying to find people to be in a band with.  I actively sought out people by the music they listened to.  It was all that mattered to me.  It was horribly close minded, but I'm nothing if not committed.  I dove in.

I spent five years at Ohio University, three finishing my undergrad, two in grad school, and during that time I became a bizarrely active member of the "scene."  I put that in quotes because I didn't think such a thing existed, but often found myself in situations where I was planning shows that my band wasn't even playing in.  The younger kids were really into creating a community, which was great, but I've always been a misanthrope, so going out of my way to organize social functions was very strange.

There weren't a lot of "indie" rock bands at OU back then, and by default my first band, Middle Kittanning, became this strange kind of figure head.  A lot of that probably stemmed from the fact that we had a PA that other bands could borrow.  It also probably stemmed from my aforementioned involvement in the "scene," as it were.  As if to firmly cement myself as part of this strange sub-culture, I got a job at a local record store.  Now I was that guy in that band who also works at the music store.  I was defined by all of this.

I realize all of that sounds pretty arrogant and I don't mean it to be.  We're talking about a couple of dozen people in this so-called "scene," at least at this point (it seemed to get larger as the years went on).  And Middle Kittanning really only filled a void left by the graduation of a band called Mr. Hand, who were a stark contrast to a lot of the garage rock that was going on at the time.  I was nothing special.  I'm just trying to make it clear at how completely submerged in this I was.

The kicker came in grad school when I moved into a house with other like minded individuals.  We had a basement full of musical equipment.  We were all in bands of one kind or another, if not multiple bands.  We had shows in our basement which bled out into parties in our house.  We became that house.  Every town has one of those houses, where the loud angry bands play through shitty PA systems and boys with patches and girls with pixie hair get drunk and awkwardly try to make out with each other.  We were that house.

I remember a really nice kid from Memphis, new to OU, setting up a meeting with myself and another member of the house, to discuss the upcoming punk rock events.  I'd suddenly been roped on to the underground social committee.  A band once showed up at our house to play a show, but no one had told us (or anyone else).  They were on tour, so they just hung out.

Eventually, we even had recording equipment in our basement and a audio production major who could use it all (two, really).  Records were now being recorded there by bands from other towns.  It sounds arrogant to say that the house was a hub of some kind, but it really was.  I don't remember there being a house like ours in the years previous.

A funny thing happened while my head was buried in all these things at OU: the music scene in my hometown of Kent, Ohio hadn't become a big deal.  Okay, that's relative, but it seemed like every punk rock crowd in every town in America knew about the bands from my hometown.

I mention this because it became important when I finally left the nest, graduated from OU, and moved to Atlanta.

My Awkward Association with Punk Rock Part 1

Like most kids, I grew up listening to Top 40.  I listened to Casey Kasem's (and later, Rick Dees') countdown show every Sunday, if I could.  My parents listened to a lot of ABBA and Neil Diamond, so that was always in the peripheral.  That was pretty much how it was through the 5th grade, aside from one blip: some small time college band called R.E.M.

My brother introduced me to R.E.M. for one reason and one reason only: they had a song about Superman.  It would be years before I even realized the song was a cover.

For some reason, once I reached middle school, I started borrowing tapes from my brother (yes, tapes).  There was more R.E.M., of course.  The B-52s.  Depeche Mode.  The Sundays.  They Might Be Giants.  Nine Inch Nails.  Jane's Addiction.  Mostly "progressive" music that would either become or lead to "alternative" music.

I remember my friends at the time thought everything I listened to was weird.

I entered high school in the fall of 1990.  That first year I mostly continued listening to my weird progressive music.  I was an angsty kid, and at the time it was as close to angsty as I could find (aside from metal, but I didn't know any metal kids, so it was a complete mystery to me.  My metal phase would come much later).

In the fall of '92, things changed.  I was still angsty, and suddenly there was music for exactly that emotion: grunge.  For about two years, it was the majority of what I listened to.  I know it sounds stupid, but it spoke to me.  It said the same things I was saying.

In the winter of '93, I joined a band.  We called ourselves oral groove (yes, lower case).  Our biggest influence was probably Ned's Atomic Dustbin, although I was clearly trying to be Eddie Vedder, at least for the first year.

Being in a band exposed me to more music (like the aforementioned Ned's).  Aside from the flavor of the day, we each liked different rock music, from metal to hair bands to hippie jam bands.  None of us really listened to anything that might have been called punk rock, not really, not then.  But we did seem to push each other to find new bands outside the growing alternative mainstream.  The Afghan Whigs and Quicksand were two notable finds.

Grunge was the first cultural phenomenon I got on board with early on, and the first one I watched expand like crazy and ultimately become co-opted.  I'm not saying I wasn't part of that, but it was strange to watch.  As grunge became alternative, it was watered down, and very quickly third and fourth generation bands were mimicking the same sound.

Alternative music also lacked the angst that grunge had.  It veered into hippie territory.  I was far too disgruntled for that.  I had to look elsewhere.

I can still remember sitting in my parents living room watching the video for "Unsung" on MTV.  Helmet were four dorky guys with short hair playing heavy music and I broke my cassette of their second album, "Meantime" I played it so much.  The last part of my senior year, Helmet had unseated many of the grunge bands.

And then I graduated.

Musically, I took Pearl Jam, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, R.E.M., Weezer, Helmet, and the Afghan Whigs with me.  Say what you want about Pearl Jam, but they were always the grunge band that got me.  I didn't have the refined pallet to appreciate Nirvana the way I do now.

I had a good mix going.  Weezer hadn't really taken off yet, but I bought their first album as soon as I heard "Undone."  The Afghan Whigs was a band that my friends and I absolutely loved, and that no one else we knew seemed to care about.  It was the same way with Ned's, although they were more of a pure alternative band.

Two bands happened to me the fall of my freshman year of college that completely changed the way that I thought about music.  Those bands were Jawbox and Sunny Day Real Estate.

Oh, and I also started playing guitar.  Suddenly I was much more involved in creating music, and if mainstream music had turned me off before, it was even worse now.  The lack of integrity in mainstream music became very apparent when I started creating my own.

The final element of my musical awakening, if you will, came from a discovery that was, funny enough, facilitated by the internet.  Back then the internet was, for me, mostly about BBS forums and record label web sites; there were no such things as MP3s.  But internet gave me the information I needed for something very important: mail order records.

Armed with catalogs I'd printed out from web sites, addresses from the same, and a record player I'd had for at least a decade, I began my submersion into the world of underground music.
 

Discovering Hip Hop at 40

Having kids leads to some strange changes in your life.

Like listening to hip hop.

I was born in the mid-70s, so suggesting that I'm a child of the 80s wouldn't be far off. But puberty wrecked havoc on me, to the point that I became almost a different person. At the very least, I went from a kid who generally did what he was told to a kid who generally tried to do his own thing. By this token, the 80s weren't so much my decade as the 90s, after puberty, after I'd decided to start making decisions for myself.

Rap music "broke" in the 90s, really. It had been bubbling below the surface of mainstream music for years, but it really broke through in the 90s. That's when it became popular music. And even now, I have some affection for 90s hip hop.

But that wasn't me. I was an angry white kid from the suburbs who had no idea why he was angry and seemingly out of no where came an entire genre of music that spoke to me: grunge. And when grunge burned away, I'd already jumped ship to its main influence, punk rock. And punk rock led me to indie rock, which more or less allowed me to mix some sadness in with my anger.

I stayed away from hip hop. I needed music that spoke to me, but I was also for anti everything, which meant that listening to popular music was out of the question. And, like I said, rap had taken over the Top 40.

I dabbled in hip hop over the years. At a certain point, indie rock began embracing lesser known rap acts, I suppose the way that Anthrax embraced Public Enemy. And I liked hip hop. I've just never had any idea where to begin with it and, really, not motivation to do so. I was waist deep in minor chords and feelings and adding another style of music to the mix was just too much for me.

But when you have kids, you suddenly find motivation for things, motivation that wasn't there before.

I started listening to hip hop regularly after our son was born. The internet is great for getting suggestions; there are a hundred streaming music services that will take one song you like and turn it into an entire playlist. So slowly but surely, I waded deeper and deeper into the hip hop waters.

I'm still a novice, I fully admit that, and I doubt anyone would ever accuse me of being anything other than a dabbler. But I'm open to anything. I want to learn.

What does this have to do with my son?

I wasn't raised on music. My parents loved Abba and Neil Diamond, but beyond that seldom even talked about music. When I discovered the Beatles, I raided my parents record collection, but I'd never heard of them from my parents and was surprised to find those albums in the house.

I want my son to be exposed to as much as possible. I know that hip hop might seem like a small thing, but I feel like it's important. I feel like growing up around a diversity of music is important.

It's more than that. We live in the Bay area and his class at school is fairly diverse. But I know how much more impact parents can have on kids and I don't want him to see me living on a steady diet of sameness. I want him to experience a wider world that I only ever got glimpses of and I at least want him to feel like that experience is encouraged, not just overtly.

Honestly, it's been a lot of fun to dig into a new genre of music, particularly something that's so far removed from what I've listened to for most of my life. It's like learning a new language. I'm starting to become discerning, starting to notice what I like about particularly songs and what I don't. I can't really verbalize it yet, but I'll get there.

And I still can't dance, but my son doesn't care.

Blame Fairyland

It's not really Fairyland's fault. I'd actually made my decision days earlier, it's just that Fairyland reassured me that I was doing the right thing.

I spend a lot of time doing two things: interacting with people online and submerging myself into comic books. The two have become interlinked over the last few years of my life.

I have read comics since I was 10 and that won't change. I will always have a robust online life. But I've found recently that I need to pull back on both of those things.

At the moment, I run a web site: Comics Bulletin. It is, as you might surmise, a site about comics. I've been running it for less than a year, but in that time it has become a top priority for me. This is, in part, because I'm neurotic and this is what I do. But the site is also about something I'm passionate about, so it was easy to justify my obsession.

My current priorities in life are as follows:

My son
My wife
My writing
My job

That last one is in that spot as an aspect of taking care of my son, helping my wife, and being able to afford to write (in a house while fed). The problem is that the site, and by extension comic books themselves, was getting in the way of each of those priorities. That wasn't a big deal with regards to my job as no one really noticed, but it was a very big deal with regards to everything else on that list.

This isn't a post about comics or that site, though. I'm going through one of those times when I realize that what I used to feel was important either no longer is (to me) or can't be, and that there are new things that are replacing them.

Yesterday I deadlifted 195 lbs, which is 60 lbs more than the last time.

The idea of me using any of those words, let alone together in a sentence, is crazy. And yet here I am, a guy with a trainer who lifts weights. Better yet, I look FORWARD to it. I try to squeeze in a visit to my trainer's gym whenever I can.

I started going to strengthen my lower back, which has given me problems for years. I wanted to be able to pick up my son and not worry about being incapacitated for days. I've been going for months now, getting stronger and stronger, my energy level increasing the more I go. I'm doing it for my son, but the impact it's had on me has been huge. It's important to me.

That's not something I would have said even six months ago.

My son's school has a parents group with a representative from each class. His class didn't have one, so I volunteered. I didn't just do it because they needed someone, I did it because I felt like I was the best person for the job: I know the kids in my son's class. I say hi to each of them by name every morning. It takes me a half an hour to drop off my son and part of that involves playing with the all of the kids.

That's important to me now.

A lot of this is to be expected, I guess, but it's a testament to a) how drastically the needs of a child change when they become toddlers and b) how desperately I'll hold on to my past when I feel change coming.

What I have found surprising about my shift in priorities is how liberating it feels.

I honestly don't know why that is. Sure, it's in part because I'm no longer bound to a web site and all that entails. But it's more than that. There's clarity. For as enjoyable as my hobbies have been, they're amorphous; there's no start, no finish, no straight line. I wasn't working towards anything. Now I feel like I am.

Every moment I spend with my son or my wife is working towards building and maintaining our relationships. Every moment I spend writing has the duel purpose of unburdening my soul and creating something I can get published. Every moment I spend at work pays for this life and brings me closer to possibly making more money to pay for this life.

Like I said earlier, I'm still reading comics, just as I'm still reading books and I'm still playing video games. But they're not foremost in my mind anymore, not like they were. So I don't mind leaving the house. I don't mind a spur of the moment trip to the zoo or our inaugural visit to Fairyland. These are all parts of a bigger picture which is suddenly less cloudy than it was before.

The funny thing is that for all the time I've spent trying to stay a kid, by actually growing up I now spend more time playing with toys and watching cartoons than I have in years.

"Happy to see you, dadda."

One of the things I've learned during my 28 months as a parent is that you can't explain it to anyone who hasn't done it. I've done my best to avoid giving any advice to future parents because even if the advice is completely on the money, it more or less goes out the window when that kid shows up. Everything goes out the window.

I'm sure at some point someone tried to explain to me how emotional having a child would be, or how those emotions would sneak up on you and over take you when you least expect it. But it's impossible to comprehend what that's like until you go through it yourself.

Appleseed (what I call my son online) and I were playing at his train table. I'd been to the gym earlier and I was pretty wiped out, so I laid down on the floor. Instead of grabbing my hand and telling me to get up and be Gordon (I am Gordon, he is Thomas, my wife is Emily), he laid down with me, kind on top of me at first, then down next to me, then he crawled back up on top of me again, all the while smiling.

And then he said it.

"Happy to see you, dadda."

I could barely form thoughts, let alone answer.

He said it again.

"Happy to see you, dadda."

But he didn't say it as if he was waiting for me to say it back, he said it again as if he wanted to make sure I heard him, that I understood what he was saying.

"I'm happy to see you, too, Appleseed," I said.

We rolled to the side and I looked up at my wife, who was sitting on the couch watching us. She saw the look on my face.

"I know," she said. "He said it to me the other day and I couldn't believe it."

Appleseed shows us that he loves us all the time. He's a happy kid. He's a sweet and affectionate kid. Every day that I pick him up at school, he sees me and runs towards me, yelling "daddy!" and giving me a hug. He's even more affectionate with his mom. He loves us and he shows it.

But there's something different about hearing him say it (even if he didn't actually say it).

His affection for us has always seemed, to a certain extent, like an extension of the fact that we take care of him. Of course he loves us; we made him. We feed him, clothe him, entertain him. We are the center of his universe and he is the center of ours.

Hearing him say that he was happy to see me, though, seems like an independent thought. It's as if he is expressing something that he feels that is separate from our relationship up until now. I didn't have food in my hand. I wasn't giving him a Paw Patrol toy. I didn't just tell him he never had to brush his teeth again. I was lying on the floor. He could have just ignored me, really.

Instead he decided to tell me that he was happy to see me.

When people talk about such moments, they generally describe how it affected their heart. It melted or it broke or something like that. But the truth is that it felt like a section of my heart that I never even knew existed suddenly came alive. This boarded up room that had never been used was opened up and feelings I never knew I had suddenly circulated through my system.

There have been a lot of rooms like that, and Appleseed keeps finding new ones to open. The flood of them is sometimes more than I can bear.

He was happy to see me.

I know because he told me.

I'd get a lot more done if I didn't regularly think that none of it matters.

This should make my wife happy.

I drink when I write.

I don’t do it because I feel like I can only be creative if I’ve got alcohol in my system, although I will admit that it’s much easier to access that part of my brain with some liquid assistance.  I’ll also admit that it’s fun to read something I wrote the night before and be surprised at how good it is.  But, no, I don’t use alcohol as a form of inspiration.  I don’t need it to actually create.

I need alcohol to get past the feeling that none of it matters.

I should point out that this isn’t always the case, but it’s close.  My “writer’s block” isn’t that I don’t have anything to write about, it’s that I don’t think any of the things I’ve got in my head are worth the time and effort.  Is the world screaming for another YA book?  Is my life so interesting that it needs to be shared?  Why would anyone read a review of “Rise of the Midnight Sons?”  Who even reads my blog anymore?

I am so envious of people who can just sit down and write for pleasure that it sometimes make me want to kill them. 

Being content to write for pleasure is a foreign concept to me.  I like to think that, if I were paid to write, it would be easier.  That somehow financial compensation, which also suggests that people are actually reading my work, would motivate me, would convince me that what I’m doing is worthwhile.  And as much as it pains me to say it, I think that’s true.  I think even validation in the form of money would be enough.
 
But there are very few people who get to do that. 

So how do I explain those who write for fun?  Those who are content to sit at their computer, submerged in the reality of their work, unconcerned about whether or not anyone will actually read what they’re writing?  Who are these people who are happy enough to be able to do that?  Why doesn’t that seem like a waste of time to them?
 
I suppose the answer is in the question.  They’re “happy enough to be able to do that” because writing makes them happy.  So it’s not a waste of time. 

But that’s not who I am.  I love having written.  I love going to write.  I have a complex relationship with the actual writing.  I very often don’t see the point in it.  It takes everything I’ve got just to sit in front of my computer and even then whether I actually get any work done or not is a crap shoot.
 
Instead I could look at our finances.  That’s important.  I can check my work email – I get paid for that.  I can work on my to do list.  I can go on Twitter and Facebook and “talk” to people, which gives me immediate satisfaction.  Writing is hard and it takes forever and I’d like some happiness right now, please.
 
Or I can play with my son, assuming he’s awake.  I could spend some time with my wife since we never see each other anymore or, when we do, it’s while taking care of our son.  Maybe we could have actual conversations.  Maybe we could have a date.
 
I know that if I don’t write, I start to get even moodier than normal.  It’s often my wife’s go-to question when I’m in a funk or acting out (not unlike a child).  “Have you written lately?”  Because she knows that it’s an indirect form of therapy for me.  Even if I’m not writing about myself, the act of creating has a positive impact on me.  But that positive impact is often hard to see until I’ve actually done it.
 
There are so many other things that have a positive impact on me, though.  So many easier things.
 
So how do I do it?  How do they do it?  How do I just sit down and write, rest of the world be damned, need for validation be damned, need for immediate satisfaction be damned?  How do I convince myself that this short story, this novel, this column, this review, needs to exist?
 
Why does this matter?
 
Happiness isn’t reason enough for me to do much of anything, which is part of the problem.

Happiness is being with my wife and son, but that’s not the only thing going on when I’m with them.  I’m making both of them happy, too.  I’m helping to raise our son.  I’m doing something important, so I don’t question it.  The validation for my actions is right there in front of me.
 
And maybe that’s why writing doesn’t make me happy while I’m doing it, because doing something solely to make myself happy isn't something I understand.  I need a reason, and without one, I can’t accept doing it.  If I don’t have a reason other than just because “it makes me happy,” then it won’t make me happy.
 
So I guess that’s the question, then: how do I accept doing something just because it makes me happy?  How do I get past the need for it to be anything more and how do I get past that need being some kind of validation?  How do I just enjoy the experience for what it is on its own?
 
I have no idea.  Not a one.

It actually feels like the great hurdle of my existence, because I think it’s something that extends far beyond just writing.  Even if it doesn’t, the impact it would have on my work would be huge.

The impact it would have on my liver would be pretty big, too.